Panasonic Lumix LX10 / LX15

Although there's always been a healthy interest in the premium end of the compact market, Sony’s decision to squeeze a 1.0-inch sensor into the RX100 four years ago gave the format a much-needed boost. 

While such cameras have their limitations, and cannot always serve as a substitute for interchangeable-lens systems, the continuing improvement in the quality of their output, and their compact proportions, mean they’re often a first choice for general shooting – and sometimes more considered photography too. 

Sony has enjoyed great success with its RX100 line, partly because of the sensor at the heart of these models but also thanks to the use of high-quality optics and advanced video functionality. 

Rival manufacturers, however, have fought back with similar propositions. Canon’s PowerShot G7 X and G7 X II have been Sony's main competitors to date, and now Panasonic has stepped into the ring too, with the LX10 (known as the LX15 outside the US).

This is the first model to sport the same combination of a 1.0-inch sensor, short but high-quality zoom lens, and a body that’s designed similarly to Sony and Canon’s alternatives

Of course, Panasonic is no stranger to enthusiast compacts, with its LX series of cameras often considered as some of the finest of their kind. Yet, this is the first model to sport the same combination of a 1.0-inch sensor, short but high-quality zoom lens, and a body that’s designed similarly to Sony and Canon’s alternatives.

Panasonic’s naming convention suggests the model is positioned above the now-discontinued LX7, which used a respected but ageing 1/1.7-inch type of sensor, and the still-current LX100, which employs the larger Micro Four Thirds type (but at the expense of size).

The LX10 is pocketable, replete with manual controls and has an impressive spec sheet; but does it offer anything different enough to its more established 1.0-inch-sensor-toting competitors to warrant serious consideration?

Features

  • 1.0-inch CMOS sensor, 20.1MP
  • 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 zoom lens
  • 4K video capture

The Lumix LX10 is designed around a 20.1MP 1.0-inch CMOS sensor, the same kind that has been incorporated into Panasonic’s recent ZS100 / TZ100 and FZ2000 superzoom models. This captures images in a 3:2 aspect ratio as standard, over a capable sensitivity range of ISO125-12,800, with expansion settings down to ISO80 and up to ISO25,600 equivalents.

In addition to stills, the sensor records video in 4K quality, here in the 4K UHD format (3840 x 2160 pixels). This is captured at a maximum frame rate of 30fps, with 25fps and 24fps options also on hand, although if this is surplus to requirements, or you’re using a slower memory card, you can opt for Full HD recording at a variety of frame rates up to 60fps instead.

4K video recording is complemented by a whole suite of supporting and related options, such as the ability to pull 4K-resolution frames from footage and a 4K Live Cropping option that allows you to zoom into the scene and set the camera to automatically pan across, outputting the results at a Full HD resolution.

The lens travels between 24-72mm (in 35mm-equivalent terms), and has a respectably wide aperture of f/1.4-2.8. Its short focal range and wide maximum aperture indicates that this is a high-quality optic, a fact underlined by the presence of two dual-sided aspherical ED elements, four dual-sided aspherical elements and a single Ultra High Refractive (UHR) element.  

The optic has also been furnished with a nine-bladed diaphragm to help deliver circular bokeh, and can focus down to 3cm from the subject when used at its wide-angle setting in a macro mode. Panasonic has also fitted it with an optical image-stabilisation system, which works in conjunction with sensor-based stabilisation to form a five-axis Hybrid OIS+ system. 

The rear of the camera sports a 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD, with a 1.04 million dot resolution and the option to tilt it upwards and around a full 180 degree rotation so that it ends up facing the front. This action immediately brings up a handful of portrait-specific modes such as skin softening and slimming filters, both available in various degrees. 

A handful of Photo Styles enable you to vary colour effects and to call upon monochrome options, and you can even create your own with a Custom setting. These are bolstered by a range of Filter Effects such as Expressive, High Key and Retro, and you can use these for both stills and video recording.

The camera employs a Light Speed-branded autofocus system, with Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology also on board, with 49 areas as standard but manual adjustment allowing the focusing point to be positioned anywhere. You can do this by either moving the focusing point around the frame or by pressing the camera’s touchscreen to set this, and with the latter option you can expose the frame at the same time. You can also specify your own focusing areas for auto-area focus or call upon pinpoint focus for accuracy when shooting smaller subjects.

Continuous focus when recording both stills and videos, and manual focus with optional focus peaking are also on hand.

As we’ve come to expect from Panasonic, there are a raft of further options designed to make the photographer's life easier, such as built-in Wi-Fi and in-camera raw processing. Particularly creative photographers can also call upon Time-lapse and Stop Motion animation options, as well as the further option to blend multiple exposures together into a single composite file.

Like Canon with the PowerShot G7 X Mark II, Panasonic has found space for a small pop-up flash within the top plate, although there's no viewfinder, nor the option to use an external one on account of there being no hotshoe. A single door on the side of the body houses HDMI and USB ports – the latter allowing for the battery to be charged in-camera – while a door at the base provides access to a combined battery and memory card compartment.

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Build and handling

  • Solid metal construction
  • Dual control ring
  • Weighs 310g

The Panasonic Lumix LX10 / LX15 is clearly designed to be pocketable, just about fitting into the palm of the average hand. Its main body is metal, and the various dials also appear to be built to the same standard, with a handful of buttons on the rear being somewhat small but characterized by good travel.   

The top plate contains two dials, one to switch between shooting modes and a command dial that’s principally used to change exposure parameters. The command dial is well sized and moves freely when rotated, and although the stiffness of the mode dial isn’t entirely unexpected, its flatness does make it slightly more awkward to get purchase. Still, if you only ever stick to a handful of exposure modes, this may not be an issue.

The top plate also sports video record and shutter release controls, with a zoom collar around the latter button, alongside a small catch that releases the flash from its top plate – and on such a small body, everything here falls easily under the finger.

Unlike on the models in the RX100 line there’s a raised section to the front plate that serves as a grip, and this has the advantage of adding only a little to the camera’s size, although some may have preferred something slightly beefier, as it’s not really significant enough to make much difference to handling.

The lens is encircled by a control ring; this is set to zoom the optic by default, but can be customised to perform a range of other functions, from focusing and exposure compensation to many options such as iResolution and aspect ratio.

Between this and the body lies an aperture ring, which has two protrusions around its smooth edge to help the user get a grip. The two rings combined only add a cm or so to the camera’s profile, although the aperture ring’s proximity to the main body and its shallowness mean it follows the mode dial in being somewhat awkward to operate comfortably.

Overall the Panasonic LX10 / LX15 is built to a high standard, with a broad selection of physical controls falling to hand and plenty of scope for customisation, although the small grip and design of the aperture ring show size to have been prioritised over ideal handling and operation.

Autofocus

  • 49-point AF
  • Post-focus function
  • Focus stacking

The last few generations of Lumix compacts and compact system cameras have been blessed with excellent autofocus speeds, so it’s great to find the LX10 / LX15 displays the kind of slick performance we’ve come to expect from Panasonic. 

In good light the camera acquires autofocus with almost no delay, at least none that would make any practical difference. When challenged with darker conditions the lens speedily bounces back and forth before confirming focus, and even in particularly dark conditions the sprightly AF-assist lamp means that focus is often found with only minimal delay.

The responsiveness of the touchscreen means you can effortlessly select the focusing point here, and you can adjust this box over eight sizes using the command dial on the top plate. This is great when you need to focus on a very small (or distant) subject, although you can also call upon the Pinpoint option for greater precision. Here, the camera takes a little longer to find focus than when left to its more conventional settings, but the centre of the screen is magnified as focus is confirmed to give you a better idea of what is and isn’t in focus. If you want, you can even adjust the duration of this magnification, which is quite some control for a compact camera.

Also impressive is the extent to which the camera manages to keep a lock on moving subjects, even when the camera is moved very suddenly or when the subject changes direction. In these situations the focusing system works tirelessly to keep a lock, and partnering this with the slower of the two burst-shooting options reveals AF to be maintained well throughout the burst.

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Performance

  • 6fps burst shooting
  • Modest start-up time
  • 260-shot battery life

It takes just over a second or so for the Panasonic LX10 / LX15 to fully extend its lens and be ready to shoot after being powered up, which isn’t particularly speedy but is pretty much standard for such a model. There is a slight further delay if you immediately attempt to play images as the camera is turned on, roughly another second or so. 

The lens moves relatively slowly through its focal range, although this is necessary when you consider how short it is. A welcome feature is that the zoom collar around the shutter release button is responsive enough to recognise very slight nudges, which makes it possible to adjust focal range in single mm increments for precision. You can choose to step the zoom should you only require commonly used focal lengths such as 35mm and 50mm. 

The lens’s maximum aperture of f/1.4-2.8 compares favourably with rivals that only manage f/1.8 or so at the wide-angle end, although using the camera reveals that the maximum aperture closes down to f/2 by 27mm, and to f/2.8 by 32mm, which may disappoint some. 

The LX10 / LX15’s LCD screen remains impressively visible outdoors, and its resolution ensures details are reproduced with very good clarity; this is certainly one of the better screen on such a camera. The only time where it appears to fall short is when videoing certain subjects with defined details, as this can occasionally give rise to slight artefacts on the screen.  

The option to tilt the screen upwards further improves its visibility when shooting at awkward angles, although rival models such as the Sony RX100 IV and Canon Powershot G7 X Mark II have a dual-hinge design that enables both upward and downward tilting; in the absence of the same here the screen struggles to be as usable when the camera is held above head height. 

The screen is, however, pleasingly sensitive to touch, particularly when used to select the focusing point, although you quickly find this to be just as useful when selecting shooting options. You can also use touch to swipe through and zoom into images, although on such a small body it’s arguably more comfortable to use the physical controls to perform these tasks.

One small issue here is that the screen’s flushness with the rear of the camera, together with its proximity to where your thumb rests, means that it’s all too easy to thumb the screen inadvertently in its corner. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but when the touchscreen is enabled this has the effect of shifting the focus point to this area.

Image quality

  • ISO125-12,800, expandable to 80-25,600
  • Solid metering system
  • In-camera raw processing works well

In general, there appears to be little need to call upon the camera’s exposure compensation function in day-to-day shooting, as the default evaluative pattern copes well with a range of scenes. Shooting out on the street, the camera only underexposes a touch when faced with a larger area of bright skies, generally doing a fine job of maintaining a balance across the frame. Likewise, when capturing a predominantly dark subject, the camera isn’t easily foxed into delivering an overexposed image like so many others are.

Processing raw images shows a reasonable degree of latitude with such scenes too. Areas underexposed by a stop or so can be lifted successfully, and those underexposed even further are also able to be rescued, although only in conjunction with careful noise reduction and sharpening. Raw processing in camera is fairly well thought-out, with a good range of options including the choice to save files over existing versions or as new ones.

When using the Standard Photo Style, colours appear accurate and true to life, but perhaps without the punch expected. Switching to the Vivid option lends images a pleasing depth without oversaturating colours or making everyday scenes appear unnatural, and is also perfectly suited to the kinds of scenes in which you might make a point of calling upon it, such as nature and landscapes. 

The camera’s Auto White Balance system is accurate under natural conditions, and does very well under combinations of artificial and natural light, with consecutively captured images showing excellent consistency. 

Sharpness isn’t too bad at f/1.4, particularly in the centre of the frame where this is highest, although comparisons with the same images captured at smaller apertures shows that stopping down has a marked effect. The camera appears to be doing an excellent job to correct curvilinear distortion at wide angles too, with just a touch remaining in raw files compared with JPEGs. Furthermore, while some chromatic aberrations are visible in raw files, these are also generally low enough not to be objectionable. 

Image noise is fairly absent at lower sensitivities, and only a gentle pattern affects images captured in moderate lighting when using mid-range sensitivities such as ISO1,600, one that could be easily processed out with any ill effects. Nevertheless, the noise reduction applied to images at higher sensitivities is not only destructive to details but also reduces colour saturation and leaves images lifeless. Unlike on many other cameras, high-ISO noise reduction is adjusted for each Photo Style rather than applied globally, although you can also tweak this as part of the camera’s Raw-processing functions post capture.

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Verdict

Panasonic has a long and commendable history in the enthusiast compact market, and the LX10 / LX15 is another fine addition to the Lumix stable. 

Its snappy autofocus system and clear, responsive touchscreen make it a highly enjoyable camera to use, and the standard of its images and videos is reliably high. The fact that the camera is so diminutively proportioned also means you won’t feel discouraged taking it out for the evening, but will still feel confident enough to use it in more demanding scenarios, where you might normally use an interchangeable-lens camera.  

It’s not, however, alone in managing to offer all this, and highly capable rivals from the likes of Sony and Canon mean it’s worth thinking carefully about what you need, and what you’re happy to do without. The lack of a viewfinder and a proper grip alone, for example, will be enough to put off many, particularly those accustomed to interchangeable-lens systems. Those capturing seascapes or long exposures may also be irked by the omission of an ND filter, although this is a minor point and it won’t upset everyone.

If these things don’t put you off, the Panasonic LX10 / LX15 is worth a serious look, particularly if you’re lucky enough to own a 4K display of some kind and imagine you’ll call upon video recording with some frequency. True, it may not be significantly different to existing compact options, but it still manages to offer and excellent performance-to-size ratio – and that’s precisely the point of such a camera. 

Competition

Nikon D3400

The D3400 is the latest in a line of Nikon entry-level DSLRs that adheres to a no-frills template, one that prioritises small size, light weight and a simple design, all the while maintaining the benefits of an interchangable-lens system.

A follow-up to the brilliant D3300, Nikon has managed to shave a little of the D3300's weight off the body for this new iteration, but it's also boosted its battery life and improved a number of features to make it an even mightier proposition for the novice user. 

It's also launched the camera alongside a redesigned kit lens, one that sports a retractable inner barrel and a more streamlined design that eschews the focusing and Vibration Reduction switches we're used to seeing.

But, after so many warmly received models and a raft of fine competitors in both DSLR and mirrorless categories, does the D3400 have enough going for it to make it worth the beginner's attention?

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.2MP
  • 3.0-inch screen, 921,000 dots
  • 1080p video capture

The Nikon D3400 sports an APS-C sized sensor – as is the case with every entry-level DSLR, with its 24.2MP pixel count very respectable – certainly we wouldn't expect this to be any higher at this level – and this is heightened by the lack of an optical low-pass filter, which should help it to capture better detail than would otherwise be the case.

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This works over a reasonably wide sensitivity range of ISO100-25,600, which represents a one-stop expansion over the native ISO12,800 range of its D3300 predecessor. Once again it’s paired with Nikon’s Expeed 4 processing engine, which, among other things, allows for 5fps burst shooting and Full HD video recording up to an impressive 60p. Nikon’s familiar Picture Controls are also on hand, although for those wanting their images and videos processed into more distinct styles immediately, Effects such as Super Vivid, Illustration and Toy Camera are also accessible through the mode dial.

The camera's 11-point AF system features a single cross-type point in the centre of its array, with a maximum sensitivity down to -1EV. You can set the system to focus continuously on a subject, including with Nikon's 3D tracking technology, and the camera can also continue to autofocus in live view and when recording videos. Manual focus is also possible, selectable through the menu and performed with a ring at the very front of the camera's kit lens.

Not that they're not bettered elsewhere, but the specs of both the viewfinder and LCD are in keeping with what we expect at this level. The viewfinder is based on a pentamirror construction and shows approximately 95% of the scene, while the LCD measures 3in in size and has a respectable resolution of 921k dots.

Wi-Fi hasn't been included inside the body, although wireless image transmission is still possible through the SnapBridge feature. First incorporated inside the D500, this uses always-on Bluetooth Low Energy to deliver images straight to smart devices, either as they are captured or afterwards. It's not possible to control the camera's shooting settings remotely in any way, although this is not too great an omission on such a model.

To help the first-time user understand their camera better, Nikon has once again implemented its Guide mode feature

To help the first-time user understand their camera better, Nikon has once again implemented its Guide mode feature. This provides an alternative to the main menus and helps the user quickly capture specific types of images. There's also the familiar '?' button that can be called upon to explain camera functions.

Nikon though has made a few omissions from the D3300. Gone is the microphone port around the camera's side, which means that you're restricted to the built in monaural microphones, although this is not a critical loss when you consider that it's aimed at beginner users. The flash has become weaker too, its guide number dropping from GN 12m at ISO 100 to just 7m here. Perhaps most importantly, built-in sensor-cleaning technology has also failed to make the cut, which means you have to use a more tedious process that requires you to take a reference photo before processing it with the included Capture NX D software, or raise the mirror and physically clean it with a swab or blower.

The core specs – notably the sensor, AF system and video specs – compare well with the camera's chief rival, the Canon EOS 1300D, although these and others are essentially unchanged from the D3300. Some may lament the lack of built-in Wi-Fi, however, as well as a touchscreen.

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Build and handling

  • Polycarbonate construction
  • Design little changed from D3300
  • Weighs 445g

The D3400 is designed to be small and lightweight, but Nikon has ensured there is enough grip to get hold of the camera and space on the rear for the thumb to rest without knocking into any controls. At just 650g with its battery, memory card and kit lens in place the model is one of the lightest DSLR combinations around, around 40g lighter than the Canon EOS 1300D and its own 18-55mm kit lens and around 200g lighter than the Pentax K-50 and lens.

Naturally, such a small and light body does have its downsides. Mounting anything but Nikon's smallest and lightest lenses makes for an imbalanced partnership, for example, and it's easy to get your nose in the way of the menu selector pad on the rear which can make adjusting the focusing point tricky. The camera also lacks the build quality of its D5xxx siblings like the D5600, which is to be expected given its lower billing.

A soft rubber around the grip improves the model’s feel in the hand, and this is complemented with the same finish on the thumb rest

Still, there are many positives elsewhere. A soft rubber around the grip improves the model's feel in the hand, and this is complemented with the same finish on the thumb rest. The mode dial is easy to grip and rotate, and while buttons are somewhat flat and lack much travel they are reasonably sized and well marked. The customisable Fn button to the side of the lens mount is very welcome, particularly in the absence of a direct control for ISO, although this can be assigned three alternative functions. Also nice to find is a dedicated drive mode button, which you'll no doubt find useful if you tend to call upon burst-shooting and self-timer options with any frequency.

Autofocus

  • 11-point AF, 1 cross-type AF point
  • AF-assist illuminator
  • 3D-tracking AF

In line with many other APS-C based rivals, the camera’s 11-point Multi CAM 1000 AF system covers a healthy proportion of the frame, the points arranged in a diamond-like formation. This is essentially unchanged from previous models, although the new AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens has been engineered to provide fast and quiet focus.

It is indeed very quiet, with just a slight burr as it works, and something that’s easily masked by most ambient noise. Overall speed is also very good, with the system bringing subjects to focus as promptly as expected when shooting in good light. Naturally this slows in poorer light, although the AF assist lamp is relatively bright and readily springs into play.

Although only the central AF point is cross type for enhanced sensitivity, the points immediately above and below it also prove to be more sensitive than the other surrounding points. I found this triplet could focus on very low-contrast subjects where the other eight could not.

When set to track a moving subject the system is capable of keeping up as a subject moves around the scene, although as points are positioned much further apart from each other than on cameras with a more densely packed array, it can often lose subjects if they don’t occupy enough of the frame to begin with.

Nikon D3400 image quality

There’s a slight focusing slowdown in live view, although a comparison with a similarly-sized Nikkor lens with an SWM motor shows the newer AF-P version to be both faster and quieter. In good light it still manages to find the subject without too much hesitation, although during this review there were occasions in poorer light where the system could not find focus at all. Still, for studio and other tripod-based shooting, this is completely usable.

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Performance

  • 5fps burst shooting
  • SnapBridge connectivity
  • 1200 shot battery life

We were pleased to see the D3400's metering didn't tend to overexpose when faced with a predominantly dark subject, although, as is the case with many DSLRs, it does appear to lean slightly towards underexposure when faced with brighter areas. Still, with a dedicated exposure compensation button on the top plate that works in conjunction with the rear command dial, any intervention here is fast and straightforward.

The camera's Auto White Balance performance is similarly very good, with just a handful of slips during the course of this review. It did better than expected under artificial lighting, with just a little warmth taken away from some scenes, although performance under the traditionally difficult mixed natural/artificial conditions remained commendable.

D3400

The D3400’s Matrix metering performed well under a range of lighting conditions

The D3400 is unlikely to be anyone's first choice for action photography, capable of shooting at a modest 5fps. This performance is likely to be deemed adequate of most shooting situations, but those wanting to capture prolonged bursts may find it tricky to do so when shooting raw files.

The camera's viewfinder produces a pleasingly clear, color-accurate and reasonably bright rendition of the scene, while the LCD display beneath it is fixed in place and not sensitive to touch. 

These are not features we should expect as standard on an entry-level DSLR (even if a handful of rivals do offer one or the other, or both), but the key thing is that it can reproduce the scene faithfully and show details clearly, and with 921k dots it does a good job to do both in balanced conditions and indoors. 

One feature that deserves high praise is the 1200-shot battery life…this places the D3400 at a huge advantage over other models

Wireless image transfer takes place over the camera's Bluetooth-running SnapBridge system, for which you need Nikon's dedicated app of the same name. This has not been well received since it introduction earlier in the year, and it was not possible to establish a connection when paired with an iPhone 6 for the duration of this test, despite both devices recognising each other.

It doesn't come as too great a surprise that the camera doesn't quite stretch to recording 4K video, offering Full HD instead, although good results are possible. Manual control over exposure may be enabled and while a little rolling shutter is visible in certain scenes, this is only really an issue if you pan the camera at speed. 

One feature that deserves high praise is the 1200-shot battery life. Having initially charged it fully, the camera maintained a full three bars after two days of being tested. Battery life is an issue for many compact system cameras, whose small batteries often have to power both LCD screen and electronic viewfinders, although the D3400's battery is far juicier than most other DSLR batteries too (certainly in this class). This places the D3400 at a huge advantage over other models.

One small annoyance is that Nikon has maintained the same 'this option is not available at the current settings or in the camera's current state' error message from previous models. This is particularly unhelpful when faced with unselectable options as it doesn't explain exactly why they cannot be chosen, and it may cause the first-time user to have to check their manual more often than should be necessary.

Image quality

  • ISO100-25,600
  • No low-pass filter
  • Picture Control image effects

With no low-pass filter in front of its sensor, it's possible to record a very good level of detail in images, particularly if you use a high-quality prime lens, a macro optic or one of Nikon's pro-oriented zooms. One thing that lets down image quality is the standard of the 18-55mm VR kit lens, particularly at the wideangle and telephoto extremes. Partner the D3400 with some good lenses though, and you achieve images with excellent levels of detail – like the shot below.

D3400 image quality

The 24.2MP sensor inside the D3400 is capable of delivering excellent levels of detail

At wider apertures images are somewhat soft, particularly in corners and at the edges of the frame, although when used in an intermediate focal length it’s possible get some very good sharpness in the centre of the frame. As with many similar kit lenses, lateral chromatic aberration and curvilinear distortion can be visible in Raw files, although both are successfully and automatically dealt with in JPEGs.

D3400 image quality

It’s possible to recover a decent amount of detail in post-processing

One thing those processing images will appreciate is the camera's healthy dynamic range. I found images underexposed by up to around 3-3.5EV stops could still be rectified (depending on ISO) without noise becoming an issue – at least not one that can't be dealt with by way of careful noise reduction. Just take a look at the shots above.

The camera's slight tendency towards underexposure when dealing with bright areas also means that more highlight detail is retained than would otherwise be the case, although these areas can be tamed in post-production too. Against high-contrast edges it's also easy to spot purple fringing, and this remains in JPEGs, so this is one area of attention for raw post-production.

In the kinds of conditions in which high ISOs would be called upon, images captured up until around 800 range are still well coloured and troubled to no great degree by noise, although it becomes harder to process this out from images captured after this point. It's a shame there is no control over high-ISO noise reduction past on and off, as some may prefer to adjust this in finer increments. Fortunately, the effective VR system inside the kit lens means you shouldn't immediately need to call upon higher options as light levels fall.

D3400 image quality

The Vivid Picture Control mode is a lovely choice for flowers and foliage

Nikon's Picture Control options provide a sensible array of color options, and it's great to see the Flat option that first came along in the much more advanced D810. This can be used when recording videos, as a means of providing a better starting point for grading. Otherwise, the Standard mode is suitable for everyday shooting, neither saturating colors unnaturally nor leaving them lacklustre. The Vivid mode is a lovely choice for flowers and foliage, and gives colours just the right pep, although all can be adjusted fairly comprehensively with regards to contrast, saturation, brightness and so on.

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Verdict

The Nikon D3400 is a fine performer and more than enough camera for most people just getting started with DSLR photography. Its body is small and light and its specs, while very similar to its predecessor's, are perfectly decent for a model of its class. Image and video quality is more than satisfactory too, and with the further benefit of in-camera raw processing, you can also polish up your creations quickly and easily for immediate use if you wish.

As a Nikon DSLR, its compatibility with decades worth of top-quality Nikkor glass is another major advantage. Furthermore, the benefit of its optical low-pass-filter-free sensor means that you can get the best out of these optics.

Perhaps most importantly for a entry-level DSLR, the built-in Guide mode and straightforward controls make the D3400 incredibly easy to use

The advantage of the 1200-shot battery shouldn't be overlooked too (especially when compared to mirrorless rivals), and means that it's much more likely to be taken to a festival, on holiday or elsewhere where you may not always have easy access to a power supply. 

Perhaps most importantly for a entry-level DSLR, the built-in Guide mode and straightforward controls make the D3400 incredibly easy to use. 

Initially quite a pricey option when launched last year, prices have fallen steadily to make the D3400 a much more appealing proposition. If you're after an easy to use DSLR with a huge back-up of lenses and accessories at your disposal, this is a great starting point.

Competition

Shooting For Black And White

I love shooting for black and white.

Notice that I said “shooting for” black and white. I’m consciously aware that the image that I’m making at that moment will end up being a black-and-white image, except for “bonus black-and-whites” that I find after the fact (see my “confession” below).

shooting for black and white Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, North Iceland
Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, North Iceland.
shooting for black and white Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, North Iceland after conversion to black and white
Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, North Iceland, after conversion to black and white.

This means that in the time I’ve used to prep and set up for the image, my brain has already run through several important pre-calculations, some of which are used for any image — both color and black and white — and some which are especially important for black-and-white images:

Considerations For Shooting In Either Color Or Black & White

  • Is this a compelling image and subject?
  • Do I have light?
  • Is the quality of light good?
  • How will I compose this image?
  • What focal length will I be using?
  • What is the best depth of field for this image?
  • Do I need any filters to bring out the best in this image (polarizer, neutral density)?

Important When Shooting For Black And White

  • What is the contrast of the subject relative to the scene?
  • Where is the tonality contrast?
  • Where are the differences in luminosity (brightness)?
  • Are there “micro-scenes” within the composition that might act as supporting players?
  • Will the sky and clouds look better in black and white?
  • How can I maximize the contrast of the entire image as a whole?
  • Does my background need to be sharp and in focus, or is it better to be soft?
  • Have I composed in such a way that my subject is supported by the background, not diminished by it?

Let’s take my image of the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall in North Iceland (above) as an example. This waterfall is situated in such a way that late afternoon light floods the canyon. We usually shoot it from a few hours before sunset, and sometimes the sky will light up with crazy colors at the magic hour. It’s a compelling image and subject, there’s good light—I now have to choose how I’m going to compose. There are a few limitations, few spots to shoot from, since climbing down to water level requires some skill and can be treacherous. Depth of field? Everything that is “rock” needs to be sharp. Filter? I’m a sucker for long exposures to show the movement of the water, so I used a six-stop neutral density filter to get myself to a 1.3-second exposure in very bright light. So far, so good, and the result is a successful color image. But that isn’t what I was aiming for at all.

Compare the color version to the black-and-white, and look at the major and minor contrast differences: the creamy white flowing water against the stark sharpness of the basalt columns and rocks; the clouds become so much punchier in black and white, adding another “micro-scene” of dramatic contrast; finally, black and white shows the luminosity contrast of the rock formations in a stronger fashion, in particular the bold lines of the basalt columns that ring the pool below the waterfall. From the moment I first arrived on the scene, my “computer” was thinking all of this stuff through.

shooting for black and white, Coastal view from the village of Å, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Coastal view from the village of Å, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

Another example is my image of the seacoast taken at the town of Å (that’s not a typo), which is on the southern tip of the Lofoten Islands of Norway. I didn’t have all of the ingredients that I listed above but most of them. The light, in fact was dismal. Still, the scene spoke to me, and I thought I could pull it off, and this photo shows what you can accomplish even in not-so-perfect light with careful exposure. I exposed way to the right, making sure I got everything as well exposed as possible without blowing the whites out. Right from the start, I was shooting for black and white, as that is nearly how the scene looked to my eyes during this dismal weather. The water in the sea was whipping around fairly well, and I pictured smooth water in my mind contrasting with the sharpness of the volcanic mountains that reach the water. So, a long exposure was in order. A 10-stop neutral density filter let me get to the 15-second exposure that I judged to be the right amount to give smoothness to the water. So at shoot, many of my objectives were met, namely the macro contrast, the scene-to-scene contrast (smooth water versus rough mountains), and the drama contrast (the sky). A little careful developing in Lightroom—nothing fancy here—and the image was done.

shooting for black and white, Coastal view from the village of Å, Lofoten Islands, Norway, after conversion.
Coastal view from the village of Å, Lofoten Islands, Norway, after conversion to black and white.

Basic Black-And-White Processing

Let’s talk about what happened in Lightroom. As much as I “think” and “see” in black and white, there’s no doubt that a lot of what goes into a successful black-and white-landscape happens in post-processing. This is no different today with digital than it was back in the days when we shot film and spent hours dodging and burning our favorite prints.

In Lightroom, for this image, it was pretty simple: A quick touch of the tone-curve to extend my tonal range all the way left and right, maximizing the blacks and the whites, and then an adjustment brush on the clouds with a mix of Contrast, Blacks down, Whites up and adding some Clarity. Sometimes a (very) little Dehaze filter can do the job as well. It varies from image to image; what I’m after is to accentuate what is there, and make it as punchy, contrasty and dramatic as possible.

Next, a different brush for the mountain and snow, further pushing the Blacks, Whites and Highlights in that area of the image to the limit. Mixing in a bit of Clarity helps out here. It really works well in those midtones. The idea is to have one of those areas of “micro contrasty scenes” within the photo.

shooting for black and white, Stand of trees in Italy’s Dolomites
Stand of trees in Italy’s Dolomites.
shooting for black and white, Stand of trees in Italy’s Dolomites, after conversion
Stand of trees in Italy’s Dolomites, after conversion to black and white.

When I’m “seeing” in black and white, I’m looking for patterns and textures as well. These are very important ingredients to a successful image. When I came upon a stand of trees in Italy’s Dolomites, I immediately thought “black and white.” Why? There was virtually no color in the scene to begin with, the outer trees were bathed in soft box-like, high overcast light, showing their white bark, and the rest of the forest stand was in shadow. I immediately fell in love with the pattern of the strong vertical lines of the trees, and the texture of the fine leafless branches reaching out from one tree to the next, each contrasting mightily with the much thicker white trunk of the tree.

Tonality, Luminosity And “Micro-Contrast” Scenes Within The Photo

Most times that I have photographed the giant crater at Mývatn, in North Iceland, it is either fully covered in pure white snow or it is completely devoid of snow, and in either of those conditions, while still an impressive and beautiful scene, it is hard to see anything but just the general shape of the caldera. When arriving in the area after a long drive, I made the immediate decision that we had to photograph the crater now, soon, before things changed. Why? There was a low cloud bank and good sunshine above the clouds, so we had that soft box-like lighting effect happening—great quality of light. I could see with my eyes that there was just the right amount of snow on the crater that I would be able to really emphasize the contrast, texture, repeating lines and shape in a very good way.

shooting for black and white, Crater at Mývatn, North Iceland
Crater at Mývatn, North Iceland.

The scene in color was already very “blendy,” meaning that the color tones shifted so gradually as to not provide much change in color contrast at all. The sky was very neutral blue-gray, with not much detail to the naked eye. Finally, the foreground was mostly low birch bushes and trees with no leaves, and while it is important to have an “anchor” to the photo, it would be a supporting player. Still, I noticed that there would be areas of micro-contrast in the foreground and that there was “texture” contrast (sharp tree branches, then the smoother crater), so I knew that black and white was going to be my result.

You have to get it right at capture. I set up for a panorama—this is 10 shots, portrait-oriented, shot left-to-right and stitched together in Lightroom. I made sure that my exposure was as perfect as could be, protecting the shadows and the highlight, but pushing it as much as possible to the right of the histogram.

shooting for black and white, Crater at Mývatn, North Iceland
Crater at Mývatn, North Iceland, after conversion to black and white.

Once the images were stitched in Lightroom, I had an overall very easy time post-processing this image. Believe it or not, I just hit the “V” key in Lightroom to toggle the image into a quick black-and-white on screen, then I added Clarity, pushed the Whites and Highlights as far as I could to the right, added a gradient filter for the sky, reducing the Blacks, upping the Whites and Highlights even more, and then added a touch of Dehaze. Finally, Sharpening was applied to give the absolute separation of the crater edges and the rivulets of snow and the white trees trunks from the black tree trunks—and done.

Confession: The Accidental Black And White

I admit, there are times when I’m reviewing my images and I will touch that “V” key in Lightroom to toggle the image into black and white. Sometimes, I get that instant “wow” for an image that I was never planning to be a black-and-white. What is it that makes me do the change?

My image of a mother elephant and calf is a good example of this. When I converted to black and white, the distracting brown earth patches became almost invisible, thus reinforcing my main message here in the photo, that of the protective mother elephant and her calf. The second reason this image works better in black and white is because of the color of the subjects themselves—they are monochromatic to begin with. Black and white also exaggerates the contrasting folds and shadows in their skin, providing more drama throughout the image.

shooting for black and white, Mother elephant and calf
Mother elephant and calf.
shooting for black and white, Mother elephant and calf, after conversion
Mother elephant and calf, after conversion to black and white.

For the most part, the successful black-and-white photo doesn’t “just happen.” Pay attention to the tonality, luminosity, micro- and macro-contrast and the quality of the light. Look for patterns, repetition and contrasting textures. All of this, when taken together, properly exposed at capture and carefully processed in post, will bring you a great result.


Andy Williams is a professional photographer and photo workshop leader at muenchworkshops.com. See more of his work at andywillia.ms.


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Photo Of The Day By Kathleen Wasselle Croft

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “The Wicked Tree” by Kathleen Wasselle Croft. Location: Glacier National Park, Montana.
Photo By By Kathleen Wasselle Croft

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “The Wicked Tree” by Kathleen Wasselle Croft. Location: Glacier National Park, Montana.

“The dead white birch tree still stands on top of the steep hill on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana,” says Croft. “To capture this view, you must lay on the ground with a wide angle looking up. The winds were so strong this morning on this 35% grade hill that you could not stand erect if you tried. Crawling was the only option. The sun was about to clear the horizon and the most amazing colors evolved. This was a long exposure in the predawn hours.”

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including Assignments, Galleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

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8 Inspiring Wildlife Photography Adventures

Join eight wildlife photographers on their adventures around the world. These stories offer insight into locations, gear, technique and more while providing inspiration for anyone who loves to capture incredible photos of wildlife.

1. Cub’s Play


Photographing bear cubs in the remote area of Lake Kuril, Kamchatka, Russia. Read more …

2. Ascension


Cypress Island Preserve in Breaux Bridge is the “it” spot for nature photographers in southern Louisiana, with a variety of species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. Read more …

3. The Poser


Icebergs, glacier-covered mountains and Adélie penguins near Petermann Island, Antarctica. Read more …

4. Foxes Stare In Snowstorm


Using a homemade crittercam to capture photos of wildlife in their environment in Bailey, Colorado. Read more …


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5. Wind Beneath The Wings


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6. Grizzly Bear In The Snow


A special moment with one of the most famous and iconic bears in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Read more …

7. Foggy Dawn


The state of caribou herds in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Read more …

8. Yellowstone Bison


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The post 8 Inspiring Wildlife Photography Adventures appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.